Reconciliation in action – co-creating opportunities with Indigenous women

Institute for Science Society and Policy

By Guy Dancause

Founder, Idea Connector Network, Co-creator, National Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem (NIWEE)

Guy Dancause
Orange Shirt Day Tabaret Lawn
As part of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, many may wonder what else we can do to move reconciliation forward.

Years ago, I asked myself this same question. I embarked on research and many conversations to identify some key issues and solutions. This path has led to the foundation of the National Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs’ Ecosystem (NIWEE), which started up this fall. It will provide opportunities for Indigenous women and their allies to have a lasting impact on economic empowerment for Indigenous people and creative and inspiring contributions to Canada’s social and economic fabric.

As a starting point, research and the lived experiences of many Indigenous people reflect the reality that colonial history has created many societal challenges. Indigenous women, in particular, are affected and face unique challenges as a combination of social and economic disadvantages.

However, this path also allowed me to speak with many strong and energetic people: women, community leaders, and allies.

Speaking with Indigenous women and members of their communities also makes it clear that plenty of strong women are dedicating their lives to supporting their communities and many women seek to further their opportunities. But the barriers to success are real. To this day, legislation in place limits access to capital on reserves.

We know from research that creating businesses is one critical pathway to a better life for women experiencing low income or poverty. However, research also demonstrates that these women-owned ventures are often labour-intensive survival businesses. Most women-owned Indigenous companies struggle with low margins, little differentiation, no bargaining power with suppliers, and a lack of equipment, technology and limited capacity. These women are owners of fragile businesses with no safety net.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its calls to action in 2015. Call to action no. 92calls “upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles.” It suggests, among other paths, that “the private sector ensures that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.”

However, in our discussions with many Indigenous peoples, we have realized that to create sustainable career opportunities, more than a job or a workplace to go to is needed. Sustainable career opportunities must be made, not just a job or a workplace to go to. In our research, we learned that the solution must start by developing trusted relationships and providing access to practical knowledge, mentorship, coaching, networks and business opportunities.

We thus created the National Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs’ Ecosystem with the vision that NIWEE provides a trustworthy environment of abundance in resources and knowledge, both Indigenous and entrepreneurial, to support and nurture the growth and development of Indigenous women as business leaders.

NIWEE is an Indigenous federally chartered not-for-profit entrepreneurship ecosystem. We intend to contribute to the economic empowerment of emerging women entrepreneurs from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. Our focus is on training and business coaching to help Indigenous women become creative business leaders and become equal contributors to what is Canada’s fabric.

NIWEE is welcoming collaborations with other Indigenous support systems and addresses a critical gap in the Indigenous entrepreneurship ecosystem, that is the scarcity of support for women at the very early stages of entrepreneurship, at a stage where many women are perhaps not even sure whether they have an actual business, or even what kind of business to start.

The NIWEE program offers aspiring entrepreneurs an introductory 14-week course co-created based on ongoing conversations between an Indigenous Advisory Group, business leaders, Indigenous women consultants, the Idea Connector Network, and collaborators from the University of Ottawa and uOttawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy. Foundational to this course is the interweaving of Indigenous and Western world views, learning methods and mentoring. You can find more information at

Forward-thinking leaders recognize that there are now powerful reasons to embrace longer-term thinking if new pathways to more sustainable, more equitable societies and economies emerge.

Your support is needed.

The shift from past decades of inequities and barriers experienced by many Indigenous women and their families to future access to jobs, training, entrepreneurial opportunities and economic empowerment will require the collaboration of many people from different backgrounds.

Consequently, we are looking for people from academia, government, corporations, Indigenous communities, the financial sector, experts in marketing, sales, funding, communication/PR and others who are willing to engage and lend a shoulder to the wheel.

Join us as a member of the NIWEE Ecosystem (It’s Free). Join the team of capacity and resilience builders that break down obstacles of inequalities.

Where to start?
To create an ecosystem and for you to share knowledge and thoughts on issues

facing our prospective entrepreneurs, we are starting by organizing three webinars.

  1. Noon to 1 p.m. Tue, Oct 18, 2022 (to introduce the NIWEE program and answer your questions.)
  2. Noon to 1.30 p.m. Wed Oct 25, 2022 (to discuss working models)
  3. Noon to 1.30 p.m. Tue Nov 1, 2022 (to finalize a working agenda ending mid-Jun 2023)

For your information, as a not-for-profit Indigenous corporation, NIWEE will be seeking funds to support
its program delivery needs, its support activities, and its research. We will solicit funds from corporate allies, Government, individuals and crowdsourcing.

However, the problem of inequities cannot be solved strictly with money; not to say that money isn’t needed. But in addition to cash, the solution requires new practical thinking. Allies can help design solutions that benefit Indigenous women, families and communities and the growth of Canada’s GDP.

Next steps

  1. To become an ‘Ally’ to NIWEE, whether to provide mentorship, access to resources, or engage in learning and co-creation, please send me an e-mail at [email protected], and I’ll get in touch with you within a few days following the reception. For more information, go to
  2. On October 11, we will launch our first fundraising campaign to bring our next cohort of sixteen (16) prospective women entrepreneurs into the program. Phase II will come alive on January 17, 2023, as a series of seminars focused on helping each prospective entrepreneur launch a business of her choice and for early-stage entrepreneurs to scale their existing small businesses. Each cohort member will also have access to one-on-one business coaching, wellness counselling, Industry mentorship, workshops and more. If you would like to support us, please contact [email protected].

In closing, we see the NIWEE ecosystem as an online public square where members and guests come together in a culturally safe space to discuss business issues, innovations, challenges and opportunities, not from a dominant western worldview but an inclusive perspective. It means we, as individuals, contribute to reconciliation and help do away with inequities that have been experienced for decades by Indigenous women. To do so, we must be willing to listen harder and be respectful of the many Indigenous and other cultural differences brought to the table. As noted above, the problem of inequities cannot be solved strictly with money; the solution requires the contribution of many minds and new practical thinking.  Allies can contribute to the transfer of practical and actionable knowledge and develop entrepreneurial skills. These new skills will help to stabilize women, families and community economic well-being, foster education, and reduce poverty. This will help many women to onboard the commercial enterprise that is Canada.